Dr. Kristin Schaefer-Schiumo| Manhasset NY

Learn to Argue Successfully, Just in Time for Valentines Day!

Discussions about the mind body connection have made their way into mainstream society. Research examining areas including stress, medical illness, and emotional expressiveness clearly has found that there are connections between physiology and emotion. So, it should not be all that surprising to learn that recent research has found that arguing poorly with loved ones negatively impacts not only our emotional health, but our physical health as well. A 20-year, longitudinal research study conducted at the University of California, Berkley has begun to uncover some of the long-term health effects of arguing poorly. While angry outbursts predict cardiovascular problems, shutting down emotionally is tied to muscular skeletal problems including stiff muscles or back problems. Even though many people feel that conflict is a part of intimate relationships and life in general, the way we respond to conflict and choose to communicate during these times of stress may literally be a matter of life and death in the long run. The good news is that there are a number of practical and highly effective strategies that you can use to reduce the feelings of stress and overwhelm during conflict. All of these tools incorporate getting to know yourself and your partner better. You will learn the patterns that lead to your emotional outbursts or tendency to shut down or retreat, which will ultimately allow you to pause and take more control of your emotions and behaviors. This, in turn, can help you stop building your case against your partner, which represents living in the past. Instead, you will learn to live mindfully, reducing the levels of intensity and drama in your interactions. The following practices can be used to help you and your partner begin to argue well:

  • 1. Mindfulness Truly Matters
    Mindfulness is a practice that, like awareness of the mind body connection, has filtered into mainstream society. This is a good thing, as research has now shown that mindfulness helps us to slow down and be calmer in situations that trigger us and make us emotionally dis-regulated. Being calm and taking pause are, of course, most difficult in circumstances in which we are provoked. But, it is precisely at these times when slowing down and not reacting on impulse and prior conditioning is critical. Instead, you may work to take pause by taking a breath, taking a walk, learning guided meditation, or counting to ten before responding. This allows you to become more aware of what is going on internally for you; you can identify the feelings you're having and help calm them. Instead of ruminating on your thoughts, you can notice that you feel angry, disappointed or hurt without judgment or justification. From this calmer place you can feel your feeling but do the right thing anyway (not react based on the feeling). You can choose your response based on the desired outcome for your relationship. As you work to strengthen your daily mindfulness practice, you will begin to treat yourself with patience and compassion. This, in turn, will help you provide the same to your partner and better understand his/her needs and perspectives. If you would like to work with some meditation exercises, please feel free to visit www.drkristinschaeferschiumo.com/blog.php
  • 2. Understand Your Triggers
    When you are triggered emotionally, your brain is flooded with cortisol that makes it more likely that you will lash out. Instead, you may take a mindfulness approach to the physical sensations, feelings, thoughts and images you experience in the moment when triggered. For example, you may feel very hurt by your partners lack of communication during the work day; mindfulness may help you uncover that there is more to that hurt than the current interaction. One of the reasons that emotions are so heightened when triggered is that an event from the present is triggering powerful and painful emotions from the past. For example, if you were criticized or belittled as a child it is more likely that you may react more strongly to perceived criticism in your present. Likewise, if your partner experienced an erratic or temperamental caregiver as a child, she or he may grow to be a defensive adult or may react negatively to feedback that is presented with high levels of emotion. Through mindfulness practice, you will learn to get on top of your triggers and reflect on the early links to your powerful emotions. This will help you gain perspective on your current interactions and react in a calmer, more appropriate fashion.
  • 3. Listen To Your Partner
    It's so important to take the time to truly get to know yourself and your partner. An important piece of this is understanding what triggers you and working to be more compassionate both with yourself and in your communication with your partner. To do this, stop arguing your case and take in your partner as the person he or she is. This means not assuming what your partner thinks or feels, not judging, and not putting words into her or his mouth. Instead, it means hearing your partner out when she or he has something to say. Do not fall into the trap of believing you or your partner can mind read, as this leads to believing your perceptions are reality. In fact, you may interpret behaviors in a way that is way off base. Instead of making what are often dangerous assumptions, approach your partner and ask to hear her or his perspectives. Instead of focusing on flaws in the perspective or communication, look for elements of truth in what your partner says. This does not mean that you have to agree with him or her, but rather that you are trying to understand why she or he has a particular perspective. Staying calm and open creates a safe place for your partner to be open and honest about her or his experiences as well.
  • 4. Be Willing To Be Wrong
    In every relationship, it is important to remain open to the possibility that our views may not be right or wrong, but just different. Again, let's take that example of your partner not communicating with you during the work day. You may feel hurt and begin to listen to that negative inner voice that says you are not important enough or that your partner is sick of you and wants something else. By the time your partner arrives home you are hurt, angry and revving for a fight. But now imagine that your partner's perspective is completely different; perhaps he or she was completely overwhelmed with work but in fact was also missing you. But as you attack your partner for the conclusions you've already reached, you may find that she or he is completely taken aback, calling you silly or overly sensitive, or retreating into silence. A confrontation in which neither person is willing to hear out or empathize with the other tends to snowball. Instead, own your reactions and present your feelings without blame or self-righteousness. Your partner will be more able to hear your experiences and empathize with your feelings, and you theirs.
  • 5. Learn To Be A Calm "Story" Teller
    When you truly listen to your partner, you communicate interest and compassion. This allows your partner to feel heard, valued and more likely to be open to hearing your perspective and experiences. Then, there is room to tell your story calmly and without blame or criticism. For example, instead of saying, "you didn't reach out to me at all from work today, I don't matter, you don't care," you could say, "when I didn't hear from you, I doubted myself. I'm realizing I'm disappointed when we don't connect. How about you?" In addition, pay attention to what you communicate not only with your words, but with your tone of voice and body language as well. Saying you're "fine" while ignoring your partner or slamming things around your home communicates that you are anything but fine. As you learn to be open, calm, and direct, you avoid putting words in your partners mouth or making him or her feel defensive. Instead, you are telling your story, or your truth, clearly communicating your needs without blaming, complaining, or being the victim. This warmth and openness makes it more likely that your partner will reciprocate in kind. As you learn to remain open and honest, helping your partner do the same, you are learning to argue well and to increase the quality and number of the days of your life.